The Knicks path to the Eastern Conference finals and beyond had some good defenses in its path — Kevin Garnett and the stout Celtics first, followed now by Indiana and the best defense the NBA had in the regular season.
What good defenses in the playoffs do is take away your first action, your preferred option on offense (that’s why Carmelo Anthony had three shots in the fourth quarter of Game 3). And really good defenses make your second option hard, too.
What we’ve learned about the Knicks these playoffs is when those options don’t work they often resort to Anthony or J.R. Smith in isolation. And good defenses will make that a difficult way to score.
“Honestly, we’re doing it to ourselves,” Chandler said on Sunday. “I watched the tape myself and there are open looks. We have to be willing passers. You have to sacrifice yourself sometimes for the betterment of the team and for the betterment of your teammates. So when you drive in the paint and you draw, you kick it. I think we need to do a better job of allowing the game to dictate who takes the shots and not the individuals….
“I’m not saying anyone is doing it maliciously,” Chandler said on Sunday. “I think it is more so you get into a situation where you want to take over the game or you want to make a big shot where you (should) stick to the game plan. A good team wins basketball games. Unless you’re a great, great, great, great individual … and we only have a few of those come through.”
It’s also obviously true. Look back at the tapes from the Knicks 17-game winning streak and they shared the ball as well as any team in the league (the Heat and Spurs are the models there). But when they got to the playoffs and had some defenses punch them in the mouth, they reverted to bad habits.
Ones they need to fix by Game 4 or they are going to be in a lot of trouble this series.
Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine
The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.
Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.
If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.
This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.
For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season
The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.
But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.
He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.
Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.
Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.
Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.
But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.
This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.
Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history
I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.
Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”
“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”
You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”
Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.
As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.